High professionalism reigns in what must be one of the year's best documentary films.




The world has not been short of infant prodigies over the ages but more often than not one finds them in the sphere of classical music. Magnus Carlsen, however, functions in another area altogether yet lives up to the description. He was born in Norway in 1990 and in this film we first see him in India in 2013 just ahead of challenging Viswanathan Anand in the World Chess Championship.


What follows is a chronological account of Magnus's life beginning with home movies from his childhood as his father, Henrik, recounts how he introduced his son to chess when he was not yet five. Already the boy's analytical instincts had started to become manifest through his fascination with numbers while his introverted nature made him spend much time wrapped in thought. These elements made him something of an outsider at school where he was bullied, but Henrik correctly saw chess as his son's natural destiny and something which would give him self-confidence. Indeed, at the age of thirteen and already showing remarkable intuition in his moves, Magnus would become an International Grandmaster. Travelling to Iceland in 2004 to play against the master Garry Kasparov, Magnus had achieved a draw - and he would soon come to be dubbed the Mozart of Chess.


This film by the Norwegian director Benjamin Ree (also one of the photographers credited) is traditional in form but, not unlike Richard Linklater's Boyhood, was shot over a decade and leads us back to the bid to become world champion touched on at the start. If there is a fault here, it is in the way that Ree lingers at the end (there's even extra footage during the end credits), but essentially this is a film that is beautifully balanced. Henrik and Magnus himself provide the narration (mainly in English but with the expected subtitles where Norwegian is the natural language). This is much used to propel the film but the accompanying visuals reveal a real eye for telling, characterful images while the editing by Martin Stoltz and Perry Eriksen also assures that everything keeps moving.


The drama of various chess games - especially in the more detailed footage of the World Championship match - is well realised. However, this is also a sympathetic portrait of an unusual and talented young man whose achievements are many albeit countered by the tensions that championship chess involves and by his acknowledgment of private demons which he sees as part of the job but chooses to keep to himself rather than sharing them with his supportive family. What this means is that you don't have to be drawn to chess to find in Magnus a thoroughly involving film that has you rooting for this remarkable youngster and admiring the importance of the mind in a world in which computers play an ever-increasing role.                  




Featuring  Magnus Carlsen, Henrik Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Sigrun Carlsen, Garry Kasparov. 


Dir Benjamin Ree, Pro Sigurd Mikal Karoliussen, Screenplay Linn-Jeanethe Kyed and Benjamin Ree, from an idea by Martin Jondahl, Ph Magnus Flato, Benjamin Ree and Oyvind Asbjornsen, Ed Martin Stoltz and Perry Eriksen, Music Uno Helmersson.


Moskus Film/VGTV/Main Island Production/Nordisk Film-Arrow Films.
78 mins. Norway/Denmark. 2016. Rel: 25 November 2016. Cert. U.